And shares an exclusive photo diary from her first performance at Soho House.
by Gabby Sgherri Photographer: nsty.ca
When Chxrry22 (pronounced Cherry) released her debut EP, The Other Side, on September 28th, she’d already amassed a loyal following since she started posting song covers online in 2017. Among the eyes she caught was Amir “Cash” Esmailian as in “Cash XO” the co-founder of XO Records and part of the managerial team that took The Weeknd from underground R&B singer to global superstar. Cash saw that same star quality in Chxrry, who shares an Ethiopian background and Scarborough roots (a suburb of Toronto) with Abel Tesfaye himself. The similarities feel kismet as if it was Chxrry’s destiny to become the first female act signed to XO Records. “You realize that when you have a lot of things in common with someone, it brings you closer to them. They understand you a lot better and you don’t have to explain yourself as much,” she says about the comfortability she’s found being among the XO family. If The Other Side is any indication, with silky vocals, nocturnal production, and bold lyrics reminiscent of the chilling R&B style pioneered by The Weeknd, Chxrry is right where she belongs.
Refreshingly, Chxrry embraces duality in her songwriting and her EP is about coming to terms with the victim and villain archetypes that live within all of us and owning it one buttery vocal at a time. In songs like “The Falls”, she’s the villain unapologetically toying with a lover she betrayed while in “Us” she describes the pain of missing someone from the past whose already moved on. The subject matter feels quintessentially R&B but it’s not as commonplace for those stories to be told from a female perspective. Disagree? Ask yourself how many female contemporaries there are to Brent Faiyaz’s masterfully toxic (and beautiful) music. Thankfully, Chxrry is making songs for the tortured, toxic, and sad girlies everywhere (and anyone else who can tap in). Her name was inspired by a finsta (fake Instagram) she used to have, commemorated by the vintage-style cherry tattoo on her chest. To celebrate the release of The Other Side, Chxrry recently had an intimate show at the Soho House in Toronto performing her songs for the first time, and shared an exclusive photo diary from the night below. We caught up after to talk about the inception of her EP and the most meaningful song on it, her visual identity, and the moment she realized Nelly Furtado was in the crowd watching her show.
How ‘The Other Side’ EP came together:
I was staying in Atlanta at the time and I was working with my friend Childish Major. He introduced me to my producer, [Sensei] Bueno. When Bueno and I met, it was serendipitous. We’re very similar and we just clicked. Within a month of us being at his house every day, we made the project. It was very quick, after we made the songs, we went to the studio and cut them. Cash XO heard a song I put out years ago, and he reached out. He said he was interested and said wanted to sign me. When we met in person, he was like, “yeah, I’m sold. I’d really like to sign you to our label.” And yeah.
Why it’s less common to hear villain stories from a female perspective and how the landscape is changing:
Generally, I like to make music that I’d like to hear. I agree with the idea that in music, and in general, women—I don’t think it’s by choice—are put into these boxes. We’re forced to tell certain stories versus us being like, oh we’re actually this as well. I just wanted to tell stories that people have something to relate to. I will say that [in] this generation, it is common to be more honest and open about your experiences. Back in the day, it was a bit harder. Now, [with artists] like SZA and Summer [Walker], they’ve opened the doors and made it easier for people like me, who are new, to talk about those things. When [women] do things that don’t exactly fit the normal way, it is a lot harder, we’re definitely looked at sideways if we’re more honest about our stories—that’s why it’s less common, but I think we’re doing a lot better.
The inception of the EP’s title track:
When I was writing “The Other Side”, I wanted something to define the way I was feeling at the time. I had a friendship that ended a couple of years ago, and I had a relationship that was pretty public [and also ended], and it was my way of responding to a lot of things because I don’t say a lot publicly. That was my way of summing everything up and it’s what I want when people hear these songs, for them to know that this is about these situations and this is my way of addressing [them], shutting it down forever, and sharing my side. I knew when I made it, it was something a lot of people would relate to [and] it summed up the project for me.
The transition from independent artist to working with the resources of a label:
I’m lucky because for my first project I didn’t really use any of my resources. I looked around, found 2 or 3 people that I really trusted and I’ve worked with for years, and perfected what I wanted to say and do for this project. That is something my label supported, they wanted me to find my own world and figure out how I want to look and sound without any pressure. It makes it easier [for] when I do go out and work with other new people. [The label] knows more [about] how to cater music to me and I know what I want now.
The most meaningful and personal song on the EP is:
Probably “Alone.” I wrote “Alone” from a very vulnerable place, I liked the other songs where it was more like haha [and audacious] but I was like, okay, maybe I do have some issues and I need to be honest about how people have hurt me because, in other songs, I was dismissive of my feelings. When it gets to “Alone,” it’s like, no, I think I’m really sad on the inside.
On her creative direction and visual aesthetic:
I like the edgy look. I don’t think too hard about it [but] naturally, my taste gravitates toward things that are darker. I like film, more than I do digital. That’s something that I like: things that are more raw. I like baggier clothes because I don’t have to worry too much about the way that I look. I have a thousand mood boards on my phone, [there are] random album names because I’m constantly making new ones. I have so many ideas that every time I get a new opportunity, I go back and I go well, this fits, this is an idea that I want to do, so let’s try doing it. I have my internal team that I work with, I would bring them an idea and they’d help me expand on it, but generally, I’m 100%, my own creative director.
Did you have a pre-show ritual? I went upstairs and had a drink with my boyfriend because they actually don’t have dressing rooms [at Soho]. No rituals, just did my glam, had my drink, I prayed and I came down.
A glam pre-show moment.
What drink did you have and what’s your go-to drink? I had a Paloma [but] my drink of choice is always tequila soda.
Chxrry performing at Soho House.
What was the most memorable part of your Soho performance? Oh my god! When I got off stage and Steph told me that Nelly Furtado was there and watched my whole performance and [I] was so excited. When I walked out, I walked right up to her and her friends and I was like Nelly! What are you doing here? She was laughing and said that was the funniest thing anyone has ever said to her but I was just so shocked.
Chxrry wearing her custom “Hometown Hottie” T-shirt for the show.
Where did you get the hometown hottie T-shirt from? I had it made the day of [laughs]. Steph commented “hometown hottie” under my picture and I was like we need a shirt that says [that] for the show.
Celebratory post-show tequila shot.
How was the rehearsal different from the actual performance? My nerves. When I’m not nervous I sing really well, not to toot my own horn but I think I’m a pretty good performer. When I go on stage and I see all those people, I don’t know why I get so nervous. I feel like I’m naked in front of people [laughs], I don’t know how to explain it.